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Non-violence means less soccer.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Written by Adam A. Donaldson

Please tell me that I’m not the only one sick of World Cup fever (or do I mean immune from World Cup fever). Every now and then I see crowds both large and small gathered around the TVs in the Daily Grind watching a match, when it’s a big crowd I can hear the cheering through the floor up to The Cannon office on the second floor. I sit here like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve, saying “Humbug” and trying to go about my work like nothing is going on.

I know that the World Cup matters to a lot of people, the statistics say that nearly 3 billion around the globe will be tuning in; I can only assume that many of the other 3 billion just don’t have access to a television.

Sorry to be a wet blanket to anyone out there enjoying the “action” (I use quote marks because I don’t think soccer has much of it), but I just can’t get into the sport or really understand it’s appeal. Further, I resent the fact that I’m forced to feel like some sort of leper for not jumping on the bandwagon. Hell, I’m not even outcast if I don’t pay attention to the Stanley Cup final, and this is Canada. So you’d think….

So, what is it about soccer, aside for my general disdain for anything ravenously enjoyed by the majority? Simply put, soccer is the most violent sport on the planet. Sure, hockey and football are violent, but at least those sports keep it on the field amongst themselves in the context of the game. In soccer, the violence begins and ends with the audience, it is the only sport with its own sub-category of riots: the Soccer riot, which, of course, is perpetrated by the Soccer Hooligan.

I Googled “World Cup Violence” and I got nearly 20 million hits. Anecdotally, there have been several incidents where someone cheering for the “wrong” team has resulted in violence; like the case of a man in the Philippines that was shot on a beach due to some inappropriate cheering.

In Germany, home of the tournament, visitors taking in the World Cup have been advised that there are places in Germany which they may want to avoid if they are persons of colour. This is after an incident a few weeks ago where an immigrant from the Ivory Coast that had lived in Germany for two years was beaten and mugged in the affluent Berlin neighbourhood of Zehlendorf. Much of the concern over attacks like these have a lot to do with recent racially motivated violence in Germany, which some say will continue with racists and Neo-Nazis using the World Cup as an excuse.

But Germany has enjoyed some old fashioned, non-race motivated soccer hooliganism. Last Thursday a riot involving thousands of fans of both Team Germany and Team Poland got into a scuffle after heavy drinking before the game. Hundreds of Berlin riot police were called out and 300 were arrested. Apparently, there is still some tension over that whole World War II thing because a Polish fan at the game itself had a sign that said something like, “Germany defeated Poland in a month; but Poland will beat Germany in 45 minutes.”

While hooligans hashed it out in the streets, Daniel Nivel sat and watched the match from the crowd as a guest of Germany’s World Cup organizing committee. Why does this matter? Nivel was a police officer in France, where the World Cup was held in 1998. He was literally beaten to within an inch of his life and remained in a coma for months after being attacked by thugs with metal bars.

I’m sure later hearing about the unruly behaviour a few miles away brought back some rather unpleasant memories for Nivel; I’m genuinely surprised that he was able to step foot near a soccer match again.

Then in Mostar, where you would think that they would have had quite enough fighting, police had to break up a near riot between Croats and Muslims after Croatia’s defeat last Tuesday. When the dust settled, 26 people were arrested, six police officers were injured and one man suffered a serious gun shot wound, all because Muslims were cheering for Croatia’s opponent. I guess any little excuse to re-live the tension of a genocidal bloodbath is enough.

Violence against different ethnic groups is one thing, but police in England were concerned for domestic violence during the duration of the tournament and have been heavily promoting a campaign to dissuade soccer fans from taking out team losses on their partners. “Our message is clear - a beaten team is not an excuse for a beaten partner,” said a spokesperson for the Cambridgeshire Police. You know, I always considered such a thing to be self-evident.

But it seems that when British fans aren’t beating their wives, they’re beating each other. The BBC had set up big screen TVs at numerous venues for large groups of fans to enjoy the game together. In more than a few places, police were called to quell incidents of violent or unruly behaviour of the crowd. Several business in the vicinity of the troubled venues requested that the BBC suspend all further events.

But the Brits are also finding ways to be violent abroad; like in Frankfurt, Germany where 13 were arrested after police stood off against 200 England fans that resulted with a female officer getting hit in the face with a bottle.

To the vast majority of you that are enjoying the World Cup without going berserk, kudos to you, you are truly the finest kind of fan leading by example. My problem is that this type of bad behaviour seems more or less exclusive to soccer. Type in “hockey violence” in a Google search and it references 5 million pages about violence ON the ice. “Football violence” gets you more about soccer. Meanwhile, search “Basketball violence” or “baseball violence” and you’ll read several selections about badly behaved players, not audience members.

Seriously, no other sport has this. Do Ottawa Senators fans mob on Toronto Maple Leaf fans during the playoffs? Do Atlanta Braves fans threaten New York Yankees supporters out of some odd sense of retaliation about the Civil War? Do Philadelphia 76ers fans throw beer bottles at Miami police after a win? Only when Allen Iverson is in the crowd, otherwise the answer is no.

What’s sadder still is that soccer seems to be the only thing that everyone else in the world can seem to agree on. Lord help us.

I’ll end with a final anecdote about a recently held conference where the delegates, all diplomats, started off by playing a game of soccer in honour of the World Cup. It also descended into violence. Remember: these were diplomats here - getting into a fight – over a friendly game. There at least three things wrong with that statement.

Please enjoy soccer responsibly – but allow me to hate it in peace.

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